ADDICTION IN THE FAMILY
According to the National Institutes of Health, over eight million children in the U. S.— more than 10 percent of the under-eighteen population—live with a parent or guardian who has substance use disorder. Who, in everyday terms, is addicted to alcohol or another drug. And who, as a result, is three times as likely to be abusive, and almost guaranteed to cause financial difficulties for the family.
If You Suspect You Have an Addiction
It’s always tempting to deny the problem (“It’s the same prescription a thousand other people take”) or blame it on something else (“I wouldn’t drink if my job/spouse/kids didn’t push my buttons all the time”). But that inner “something’s wrong” voice rarely shuts up completely.
Other indications that your alcohol/prescription drug/other substance use may have crossed the line into addiction:
- You’re spending money on a substance to the extent that the rest of your budget suffers.
- You’re frequently taking sick days from work—or underperforming at work.
- You worry about others finding out how much you’re really taking.
- Others are hinting (or saying outright) that your substance use is “a bit much.”
If that sounds like your life, it’s time to discuss the possibility of addiction with a doctor. (Don’t try to “just stop.” At best, you’ll remain vulnerable to relapsing at the first provocation. At worst, you could land in an emergency room from withdrawal illness.) Even if you don’t care about your own future, consider that you’re placing your children at high risk for becoming addicted themselves, getting in trouble with the law, or otherwise suffering instability throughout their lives.
If Your Partner (Or Another Adult in Your Household) Has an Addiction
Nagging them to quit rarely works without an organized intervention, and even that has no guarantees. There are other things you can do, however:
- Avoid “enabling” actions, such as lying to cover up for the other party. Let them experience the unpleasant consequences of their problem; it may give them incentive to get help.
- Provide your children with extra attention and reassurance—and a basic understanding of the problem so they won’t blame themselves. (Don’t fall into “poor things” pampering, though. Pity and overindulgence do no situation any good.)
- Give the problem some space. Develop (and help your kids develop) outside interests that build self-confidence. Get out of the house every day or two, if only for a walk through the neighborhood.
- If real abuse is involved, move out with the kids (or evict the addicted party) rather than hoping against hope things will get better. Continue to help from a distance if you can, but don’t risk the consequences of escalating violence.
If You Suspect Addiction in Another Family
Teachers and neighbors often receive hints of parental addiction from children. Do not just ignore it. With or without physical beatings, such a situation is a form of child abuse: report it to the authorities, and do whatever you can to ensure the child/family gets counseling.
And remember, if nothing else, you can be a mentor, confidant, and good example to a child suffering from any form of family neglect. Just seeing a better way in action may be all it takes to break the addiction chain with this generation.